Hey, welcome to the second of my Two-Part Series on Metaphors. Part 1 – Isomorphic Metaphors and Storytelling, proved so popular I was inundated with so much positive feedback I had trouble keeping up. I thought I’d kick off 2012 with Part 2. I hope it’s equally as rewarding.
People frequently use metaphors to describe how they feel and what they want. As a coach, it’s all well and good knowing the theory behind things, but unless you practice, practice, practice the best you can ever hope to be is a book worm! I think there are enough worms out there in the world, so what I’m going to do in this post is to develop your understanding of HOW to use metaphors effectively. If you’re coaching already and not using metaphors to their full potential this will rocket you to another level (anybody see what I did there?). To paraphrase Einstein’s thoughts of creativity: no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
So here goes…
You might be one of those people who think of metaphors as simply a creative way to get a message across or just a story, a tale, or a load of mumbo jumbo. If you think this way you might also be asking, ‘Why is Shaun writing about this subject in the first place?’ And I’m glad you have asked because nowadays many linguists and psychologists believe that metaphors are far more than this; you should jump aboard. I agree with the chain of thought that metaphoric description may be a closer representation of what’s really going on in our minds. They’re more about describing our thinking patterns and structure and less about fairy tales and stuff like that.
Now, it has been estimated that the average person uses several metaphors in every minute of conversation, but, in my opinion, this isn’t the whole story. This statistic doesn’t really tell us how many unexpected metaphors are used. By ‘unexpected’ I mean the metaphors they don’t realise they’re using but still use them as an integral part of their thought structure.
Like me, the best facilitators and coaches are discovering that Clean Language can have extraordinary results (well…if I don’t blow my own trumpet, who will?). Clean Language is a questioning process created by the psychotherapist David Grove. It enables a deeper self-examination and investigation of a client’s own thought, habits and perceptions and allows them to go on to find their OWN unique solutions. Just click on David’s picture to check out a bit more about Clean Language.
This is the cool bit…By asking clean questions relating directly to the metaphoric content of a client’s conversation you will automatically deepen thinking. I guarantee you’ll be astounded at the deeper level of thinking and understanding you can achieve in your sessions…and more importantly, so will your client. It works because you’re focussing attention on the structure of their thinking and experience, rather than the same old problem-content thing that they’ve thought of in the same old way many times before. The different level of thinking can’t do anything but lead to different kinds of creative solutions. How cool is that?
So, have you ever come across a client who has…well…sensitive issues? I can tell you that this is a really useful way to explore difficult or sensitive issues because the client gets to describe the metaphors in detail without needing to worry about explaining the ‘sensitive’ stuff to you.
Here’s how it goes…
Right away you can begin to take notice of how often metaphoric descriptions come up in day to day conversations. Just start listening to other conversations- I find MacDonald’s is great for this. The way the seating is arranged (back to back) just lends itself to ear wigging…Umm…I mean coaching development…LoL. Here are some examples you’re likely to hear:
‘I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall’
‘She’s closed herself off from me and I don’t know how to break through’
‘I need a bit of a jump start’
In a coaching session you need only ask a few simple Clean Language questions when you hear a metaphor. Ask questions that’ll enable the client to become more aware of their metaphoric thinking. I apologise to the more seasoned coaches out there for teaching you to suck eggs, but a reminder never did anyone any harm; when using Clean Language in this way, generally you want to repeat the metaphoric words to the client EXACTLY how they used them, don’t worry about bad grammar or misplaced words, repeat it EXACTLY. Even better if you can match the tone, volume, pitch and speed too. Here’s an example to give you a better idea of what I’m going on about:
“You’re off balance today. What kind of off balance is that off balance? Make note of whatever the client says next and repeat back their words.
Then ask, “And when you are feeling off balance, is there anything else about feeling off balance?” Continue to explore whatever the client says, paying particular attention to the metaphoric language they use.
So there are only two questions to remember:
- ‘What kind of ***** is that *****?
- ‘And is there anything else about that *****?’
Shaun says: Some people just don’t use metaphors so frequently. It doesn’t mean that they don’t think this way, just that they may not be able to consciously access these thoughts too easily. When you ask questions around any metaphors these people do use, they’ll skirt around and offer lots of conceptual descriptions or they might even try to completely change direction…anything rather than develop their metaphor further. If this happens to you, work with them on whatever comes up, even if there are no metaphors. Be very patient and wait for when they do give you a metaphor, don’t miss it, work patiently on it. When these types of people eventually ‘get into’ their metaphors, they get a massive kick out of it… Result.
Hope this helps.
Have fun on the metaphor rollercoaster.